Digiday Awards Winner’s Circle: Edelman and Arby’s ‘Vegetarian Support Program’

Digiday’s awards honor the best work in marketing, video, content marketing, publishing and advertising. Winner’s Circle is a series that puts the spotlight on Digiday Awards winners: After the ceremony is over and all the champagne is gone, we ask each winner five questions about the campaign that won them their top honor.

After many years of struggling to position itself in a changing fast food market, Arby’s finally hit its stride. A new tagline — “We have the meats” — and a new branding to play up the chain’s culinary strong suit.

The focus on meat was illustrated in its launch of Brown Sugar Bacon. In July 2015, the brand debuted the bacon with the Edelman-produced campaign “Vegetarian Support Program,” a hotline where vegetarians could call in to get help in face of the undeniable deliciousness of Brown Sugar Bacon. The campaign also included an open letter on PR Newswire and a sizzle reel driving vegetarians to call the helpline 1-855-MEAT-HLP.

Edelman won a Digiday Content Marketing Award for Best New Product Launch/Campaign. In this edition of Winner’s Circle, Edelman senior account supervisor Chris Potter told us about how the winning campaign came to be.

What was the “ah-ha!” moment that led to the creation of this campaign?
A lot of brands try to be everything to everyone. Not Arby’s. We’re focused on one thing: meat. We’re focused on one audience: meat lovers. This absolute certainty in knowing who you are as a brand is what has allowed us to create some truly engaging programs, including Vegetarian Support. Well before we ever ideated around Brown Sugar Bacon, we laid the foundation for how engaging, brand-defining programs should be created and executed. For this idea specifically, it didn’t hurt that we weren’t dealing with just regular bacon, but Brown Sugar Bacon, which pretty much meant this product would be damn near irresistible. So irresistible in fact, that it’s possible even those who don’t eat meat might be tempted to try it (including one vegetarian at Arby’s Global Support Center who said as much). Since Arby’s created this problem, it was up to us to help our vegetarian friends to resist the temptation, knowing full well our core, meat-loving consumers would eat up an idea “targeting” our anti-audience.

What was the most fun part of working on this campaign?
For me, the most enjoyable part was the anticipation of the launch. We knew we had a great idea that was without a doubt going to generate a significant amount of engagement and conversation. Knowing you’re on the precipice of something like that is a great feeling.

What about this project kept you up at night?
This program was designed to be very tongue-in-cheek and light-hearted. However, we were concerned that it might be misconstrued and perceived as a dig towards vegetarians, which wasn’t the case and was actually the last thing we wanted to do. We approached this program with the idea that vegetarians would be in on the joke, not the butt of it. So, to be safe, we had a communications plan developed in case we didn’t get the reaction we anticipated.

What did you learn during this campaign that you will apply to future work?
This program reinforced that the most engaging programs are the ones that are unique and authentic to a specific brand. Consumers are smart and can see right through a brand that isn’t being authentic. Because Arby’s has put the meats front and center and overlaid it with this witty, humorous brand voice, we believe the Vegetarian Support program was one that only Arby’s could have pulled off without it feeling contrived. Developing ideas that align perfectly with the brand is crucial.

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